Hope for Families Seeking Info from the Personnel Records Center

In October 1994, I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis seeking information that might shed some light on how Babe died. Nearly three months later, I received a reply. That was the first time I was aware that there had been a fire in 1973 that destroyed millions of records.

The form (included here) notes “his army record has not been found; it apparently was a 1973 fire loss.”

I found alternate sources and pieced together a few documents, but I still think there is more to be found.

I mention it here because on Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a story about the renewed efforts, with painstaking work and new technology, to restore some of the records that were burned. My former colleague, Steve Giegerich, had this story on the front page headlined “Labor of love and duty at St. Louis County records center after 1973 fire.”

Six and a half million documents in one form or another were ultimately recovered; 18 million perished forever. The files are stored at the new facility in a climate-controlled warehouse with a constant temperature of about 35 degrees and with a relative humidity that never dips below 40 percent. When the summons for a document is delivered from a family or government official, the files move from the warehouse to the archivists on the third floor. The work can be tedious. With time being their enemy as they plowed through Dumpsters after the 1973 fire, agency employees could not devote any time to cataloguing the debris.

In 1994, I lived in South Florida and had nothing but U.S. mail to connect me to the records center. Now, I live 15 minutes away from it. Perhaps it bears another go.

An Enjoyable Hope-Lamour Movie; More About the Local Money

This is the second letter within the envelope postmarked July 27, 1943, by the U.S. Army Postal Service. Click here for the first letter; this letter is dated July 26, from North Africa.

Dear Mom and Pop,

I’m feeling fine and dandy and I hope you all are the same.

We saw another show last night — “They Got Me Covered,” with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. I missed that picture back there so I enjoyed it here.

I got some more French money for you, too. One is five francs, worth 10 cents, and the other is 10 francs, worth 20 cents. You notice these new bills were printed in the U.S. but the old ones were made here. The French, as you will see, let their money keep in circulation until it crumples up into dust. This one is taped up like the 100 franc note I was going to send you in my last letter. The censor told me I couldn’t send more than fifty francs in any one letter, though. Read more of this post

Getting to Know Babe’s Whereabouts When He Landed in North Africa

Piecing together the life of a soldier from his letters is substantially more difficult than I expected. I just don’t have access to the information, or the time it might take to find it. With what I have to work with, I am learning that I do little more than speculate.

For example, I’ve noticed that in Babe’s first few letters from North Africa, his return address changes three times. The first two may be the same, but rendered differently, but he moves from the “2nd Replacement Depot” to the “1st Replacement Depot” from one letter to the next.

A “replacement depot” was apparently a holding tank, essentially, for soldiers who came overseas and before they were assigned to a permanent unit. They were literally what they sound like: A holding depot for replacement soldiers. They were to replace the soldiers who were killed, captured or wounded.

One article on the subject of replacement depots doesn’t paint them in a very favorable light, calling the troops staged there “military orphans with little esprit de corps and no cohesion.” Read more of this post

Learning More About Tracking Army Post Office Movements

From my earlier post, written by Dave Kent of the Military Postal History Society, I learned that Army Post Office numbers, or APOs, are an effective means of tracking the location of a military unit. I expect to learn more going forward about how specific that information will become.

I recently corresponded with Richard V. Horrell, who runs WW 2 Connections and lists his home in Nashville. His website says he uses his passion for World War II history to create profiles of military personnel that he “researches and creates for his clients. His clients share with him the desire to remember what these men and women did for us 60 years ago.” I came across him through AllExperts.com.

Horrell responded to my questions about how to track APO numbers, which appear in the return address of all Babe’s letters. He responded on one of the APO numbers, but I realized Babe’s APO changes a few times, so I went looking for a source. I stumbled on this blog post from someone doing genealogical research, with a link to a PDF called “Numerical Listing of APOs, January 1942 to November 1947. It seemed like what I was looking for. I have it available on my site here.  (While trying to validate its authenticity, I found it apparently listed in a Smithsonian Institution index). Read more of this post

Great Letter; Details of the African People, Weather, Shows and More

This letter is actually two separate letters, with different dates, in the same envelope. This letter is dated July 23, 1943, from Africa. It was in an envelope postmarked July 27 by the U.S. Army Postal Service.

Dear Mom and Pop,

To continue where I left off in my last letter…

I didn’t have room to tell you in my last letter, but I met Joe Pasquale, Lugi Conte and Steve, who ran the garage across the street, on the boat coming over. I was never so surprised in my life as when I saw them.

This is the craziest weather I’ve ever seen. In the daytime, it’s boiling hot, but at night, we freeze in our bed.

You should see these Africans here. Just as soon as we got off the boat and were walking to the railroad station, all the little kids asked us for chewing gum and cigarettes. They couldn’t speak English, but they could say a few words. All the young people shouted hello and goodbye to us and a few of the fellows who could speak French and Italian managed to talk a little with them. Read more of this post